Social Media Influencers: What Are They? What Is Their Marketing Value?

Updated: 16 May 2018
Social Media Influencers: What Are They? What Is Their Marketing Value?

According to Freberg et al (2010), social media influencers, are a type of social media user who act as “independent third party endorser” (for brands/products/services/etc.) by influencing the attitude of other social media users’.

Social Media Influencers (SMIs) do not gain their influence from their association with a particular brand. They simply have an online persona other people trust and respect. Indeed, many SMIs do not use their influence for promotion.

In other words, they are influential first. SMIs are simply people that have influence. It is only in terms of marketing that they become relevant in promoting brands.

For example, a social influencer on Facebook may have many followers and may shape – to a degree – the attitudes of these followers. When the SMI discusses a particular subject/topic, it inclines followers to agree with what they’re saying.

SMIs influence a wide range of attitudes in their followers, from political beliefs to cultural values, from the things they find funny to the music they like. Marketers can capitalise on this influence to promote their brand.

An SMI’s influence spreads quickly through their social media channels. Whether it’s positive or negative, it rapidly affects the attitudes of their followers. This in turn affects their behaviour, which in an ideal marketing scenario, is the purchase of a product/service.

What Are the Characteristics of an SMI?


They occupy niche markets where they create content that is relevant to their audience.


Their followers view the content they produce as having a high degree of credibility; they see the SMI as having some level of authority on the subject.


The SMI has good knowledge of their niche topic. It’s not simply about appearing to be knowledge; they have proof of knowledge, e.g. they create content based on genuine research that is correctly sourced and verified.

Reliability & Longevity

It takes time to become an SMI. Social media platforms are interactive and users are quick to discredit people who present false/subpar information. Negative feedback damages reputations. An SMI’s influence and reputation builds the more they create quality content.


Most of us dislike advertising copy that masquerades as interesting content – we universally loathe click bait titles. When the content appears manufactured and the underlying intent to sell something concealed, we don’t like it. It’s considered fake.

This highlights the importance of ensuring that your brand is good. Using social media influences for an unreliable product will damage their and the product’s reputation. Shills may have short-term success, but it can’t last.

How to Assess the Value of an SMI?

Niche Markets

Just because someone has many followers, it doesn’t mean they have much influence. According to research conducted by Experticity, “micro-influencers” have higher conversion rates than general SMIs do.

They define Micro-influencers as social media users with a high degree of influence within niche markets. People with a high degree of influence within a small market generate greater conversion rates.

The highest value SMIs will operate in a niche market that is relevant to your brand.


Holly Hamann explains that audience engagement is important when assessing the value of an SMI. Their content (e.g. blogs, tweets, Facebook pages) must have positive engagement and interaction from other users.

When approaching a social media influencer to promote your product, you could ask them for evidence of good engagement, e.g. Google Analytics stats. You can also see for yourself how high their engagement is by looking at how many comments/likes/retweets they average.


Does the SMI exist in the same space as your target audience? For example, if your target audience is Middle-Aged golfers, you’re unlikely to find them on Snapchat. It doesn’t matter how influential the SMI, if you’re target audience doesn’t occupy the same online space, they’re unlikely to be of value.

How Do You Find Social Media Influencers?

There are numerous ways of finding SMIs. Sometimes it requires being a little creative: you need to understand your target audience, so that you can establish the sort of places they visit online, and the type of people who influence them.

Valuable SMIs exist on the same social media platforms used by your target audience. Search relevant channels that relate to your brand. E.g., if you’re selling a marketing service, you could visit r/marketing on Reddit and see if there are popular users that suit your brand. Alternatively, you could use the #marketing to find Twitter SMIs.

Ask your own followers. If you have a social media presence, it’s possible to conduct market research on your own followers and ask them directly if there are people whose opinions they respect.

Google can help you locate SMIs relevant to your brand, search for bloggers and content producers who blog about related topics. You can even limit searches in relevant ways, e.g. to find local bloggers if your product is location dependent.

How Do You Engage the Services of an SMI?

(Perhaps) with the exception of charities, the only real way to engage an SMI is with some sort of compensation. They normally want paying directly, but some will accept product samples, freebies, or promotional discounts.

The higher their profile and the more influential they are, the more they will cost, but the rewards will be greater too.

All you need to do is contact them and ask them to promote your brand. You can then work together to do this in a way that is authentic, trustworthy, and relevant.


Social media influencers are extremely beneficial from a marketing perspective. They can help promote your brand and convert sales. However, it’s important to understand the characteristics of successful influencers, to recognise their value for your brand, and to recognise the places where you are most likely to find them.

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